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IX. CASTLE OF ILLUSION


Chapter 5

Monday, 20 June 2005

Gus’ night was equally prolonged. The sky endlessly wheeled around him until it slowly began to lighten in the east. His time was over, and there were blitzed kids somewhere in a forest festival across the western ocean to whom he passed the duty. His next awareness was of being roughly shaken.

“… wrong turn at Albu–” he muttered as he woke.

“What?” came a distant, commanding voice.

“Oh it’s you,” Gus said. “I understand it, just like you said, Master Heronimo. I know how to set the lenses now.”

“Who said? Professor MacLantis, what are you babbling about?” Lacnuit demanded loudly next to his ear, shaking his shoulder. “Wakey wakey, come on, wake up, man.”

“Heronimo?” Gus said, squinting until he could focus on the elderly astronomer, in full make-up and costume. “Oh, it’s you, Doctor Lacnuit, what are you doing here?”

“No, the question is, what are you doing here,” the man replied, helping him sit up.

Gus looked around. He wasn’t in the rear courtyard of the castle by the fountain, but in the middle of the Cosmoscope. His butt was numb and his back stiff from sitting propped against the cold marble of the central pedestal all night. As he pulled himself upright, groaning, the scientist angrily flicked off the control switches.

“What were you doing here? Playing with the Cosmoscope? How did you get in? With this?” He held up Gus’ pass.

“I don’t know, honest,” Gus replied. “Somebody slipped me something at the Count’s party. I have no idea how I came here. But, you know, I remembered. I got it! The lens, I can set it now.” He took a deep breath. “Or was it a dream?”

“Lens?” Lacnuit said, looking sharply at him. “What’s this about a lens?”

“What lens?” asked Gus.


“I can’t believe it, Skip, it’s incredible,” Cindi said, with a light shake of her head. “Do you really think your father was an Unknown Guardian?”

“Don’t know,” he replied, “but better a secret master than a con man.”

“But those poor believers,” she objected, “waiting all these ages and for what? By what right could he, or anyone, keep consolation from them?”

“How would I know?” Skip said. “A lot of unbelievers aren’t thrilled about it either.” He gazed at her form half-covered in bed next to him. She was deliciously disheveled yet breathtakingly flawless in the early morning light flooding the room through the slats in the blinds. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything.” He sighed, threw aside the sheets, and began to dress.

“Maybe he believed, too,” he continued, “keeping faith in the Maundy Grail by keeping it safe. Isn’t it what the Virgin said she wanted to be done until Armageddon?”

“For what purpose?” she asked. “Not just for the tourist trade, I hope.”

“Yet if its return announces the End of the World,” he shrugged, “who wants that?”

“Those without reason to fear. Personally, I’d give anything to see it,” Cindi said abruptly. “It’s the only way I truly could be sure.”

“Which?” he asked, startled. He sat, groping for his shoes under the bed. “The Apocalypse or the Holy Tub?”

“The latter, of course, silly, though the former is indeed promised to inevitably follow.” Skip felt her warmth against him as she rose, embracing him from behind. “But I accept gifts of the divine however it manifests, darling, even in human form.”

He drank in the heat and smells of their bodies. “Including nibbling ears?” he laughed as he pulled away. “Don’t do that. Hey, we agreed to be grown-up here. I have an appointment, and you’ve got things to do, too. I recall hearing something about a rehearsal.”

She sulked. “Don’t be tedious. You’re not my manager. Don’t you want me with you?”

“Frankly my dear, no, not for this,” he said with as disarming a smile as he could. “Lady, this is for real. I am worried. Somebody murdered my father because of the Holy Tub. My sister was attacked by persons unknown who thought she was you last night. There are a lot of crazies out there, a few deadly serious, and nobody knows what might happen. It’s not a good time to lark about like this town’s your own petting zoo.”

“So you’re my big, strong protector deciding things for me now? What of my plans?”

Skip stood, buttoning his shirt. He chuckled. “Now who’s tedious?

“Cindi, you’ve bodyguards and an entourage which worships you,” he explained. “You don’t have to be psychic like Allie to know this town’s not safe. But if I were you, I’d come straight back here after rehearsal tonight with the entire crew, gorillas included, the band, everybody, and hole up here until morning. Party tonight or whatever, but quietly, discreetly. I’ll join you soon as I can later, if you like.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you? You think it’s that dangerous around here?”

“Yes I do,” he said, looking at her. Cindi said nothing. With a solemn expression she embraced him, and gave him a deep open-mouthed kiss. She was as luminously nude and perfect as Eve the first morning in the Garden – save for a small black eye patch she’d changed into and a silver medal which she always wore dangling on a fine chain around her neck.

“You do sound like my first manager, intent on controlling me for my own good,” she said, toying with it. “Funny thing, some lovers were like that but they seemed more possessive rather than truly supportive. You’re different somehow.”

“Should be – I’m well-trained. How many other lovers have you had with ex-wives who were big-name models?”

“That would be telling, but perhaps I should send Maya a thank-you card for training you,” she said with a theatrical wink which looked silly with her eyepatch. “One critic,” she continued more seriously, “you know who, said since I’ve only one eye the world appears flat to me, blinding me to the subtle depths and rounded richness of life. I say it’s given me a rare singularity of vision. I see things sharply and I don’t let obstacles get in my way.”

“I know you generally get what you want,” he confessed. “That weird toe business is something I never imagined before. What an interesting demonstration.”

“Don’t change the subject,” Cindi purred. “That’s not what I meant, and nothing compared to what I can do, lover,” she whispered in a husky, honeyed voice.

She solemnly searched his brown eyes with her single worried blue one. “It wasn’t mere lust which drew me to you, you know. Though you laugh at prophecy, I take it seriously, I truly do. You know, I’m not psychic like your sister either, but I can tell you have a special link to the Maundy Grail. Your whole family does. I believe we were meant to share it somehow.”

“Here,” she said, holding up the glittering disk. “This was made especially for me by a fan. It’s the Scolding Madonna – but if you look closely, she has a patch, too. Cute, huh?”

Pulling the silver disk over her head, she put the chain around Skip’s. “I want you to have this. It will remind you of me, and it’ll bring you back wherever you wander. My offer still stands, beloved. This is all you need to open any door.”

 


 

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“Even I,
who with my Ampliospectus did behold mountains on the Moon and creatures sporting in the dew,
have no mirror which can bedazzle the soul.
That art belongs to another age as yet undreamed of. ”

Testimony of Magister Ieronimus to the Inquisition,
1337

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